Fraternal correction, not so simple

Right or rebuke? Because it sometimes gives the occasion to careful guardians of Christian morality to display their zeal, correction and its repressive imagination would not agree today with its corollary – “fraternal”. He has the wind in his sails. At the beginning of October, in his encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis even erected fraternity as a solution to the conflicts that tear the world apart and damage human relations. What place then can any “correction” hold in this call for dialogue and mutual understanding?

“To better understand what it is, we could speak of fraternal support, or spiritual mercy”, suggests Brother Thomas Georgon, father abbot of the abbey of Soligny-la-Trappe (Orne). In Christian life, “fraternal correction” designates the process of sincere explanation from one believer to another, in the event that the latter comes to sin.

A spiritual process commanded by the Scriptures, which relentlessly affirm the collective dimension of salvation. God explains it bluntly to the prophet Ezekiel: not to warn a brother who sins mortally is to be as guilty as he is (Ez 33: 7-9).

However, fraternal correction is not anchored in the fear of being carried away by omission by the faults of others. It is above all a testimony of love and charity. “The motive which leads us to remove from someone the evil which threatens him is absolutely the same as that which leads us to do him good”, slices Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Theological sum.

An even more concrete reality for those who have made the choice of monastic community life, “Where we don’t choose each other. The brother is a gift from God for my own journey ”, recalls Father Abbot Thomas Georgeon. But whether it is about correcting a character defect, a habit, or operating a process of reconciliation, the approach is thorny, as it can generate conflicts and annoyances.

In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (read the benchmarks), Jesus recommends a clear method. For “Resume” his brother, it is first to talk to him ” face to face “, then in case of failure to take, before returning to him, “Two or three witnesses”. Finally, “If he still refuses to listen to the Church”it will have to be considered “Like a pagan and a tax collector”. At the end of fraternal correction is therefore the risk of expulsion from the community. From love to disgrace, are there only two steps?

” Absolutely not “, sweeps Daniel Marguerat, theologian specializing in the New Testament. “These verses were considered the ideological justification for the excommunication but it is a rather perverse misinterpretation, he warns. This rupture is in reality for Jesus the catastrophic scenario that must be avoided. Fraternal correction puts the safeguard of the relationship at the center. It is not by chance that, after this passage, follows the one on the need to forgive one’s brother seventy times seven times, that is to say infinitely. “

But to be able to deliver a true fraternal correction, which would be neither an ultimatum nor an outlet for anger – but indeed a spiritual service -, one must first correct one’s own gaze, as the parable of the straw teaches. and the beam (“First remove the beam from your eye; then you will see clearly to remove the straw that is in your brother’s eye ”, Matthew 7, 1-5).

“Fraternal correction requires being in a great truth towards oneself, Brother Thomas Georgeon advances. Only a Christian who has learned to discern the evil that dwells in him can charitably heal his brother’s evil. “ Otherwise, at the risk of adopting an accusing attitude, which does not open up any prospect of progress.

“The parable of the straw and the beam helps me enormously in prison”, testifies Éric Julien, who was Catholic chaplain for ten years at the Fleury-Mérogis remand center. If he now acts as a non-denominational association, these Christian references are precious to him: “I approach the sinner, knowing myself to be a sinner, in a posture of equivalence and not of power. Reminding myself of this helps me listen without judging to try to understand the underlying reason, the hurt that causes the person to act unreasonably. We are bad enough to tell the truth without punishing or humiliating ”, he believes.

As such, the parables provide us with valuable examples of the pedagogy of Christ. “When Jesus commands us to go talk with our brother face to face, it is not trivial. By telling us not to discredit the other through gossip, he reminds us that it is not a legalistic approach in question, but a heart-to-heart “, remarks Éric Julien.

“Jesus never denigrates, he does not expand on the details of the faults. Of course, he puts the person in truth, but only in order to put him back on the road and to raise him up ”, Brother Thomas Georgon still notes, which refers to the episode of the adulterous woman for inspiration. “Jesus even takes us on the wrong foot by offering the accusers a beautiful fraternal correction:“ Let him who has never sinned throw the first stone at him ”(Jn 8, 7). “

Correction must therefore, in order to be fraternal, be considered and subject to discernment, and not carried out under the influence of judicial instincts. And, to find the right words, “There is nothing more complicated than simplicity”, underlines Sister Xaviere Bénédicte Lamoureux.

In her mission of spiritual accompaniment, she helps people to succeed in formulating their expectations: “We are too often stuck with the event, with our anger. There is a lot of work to be done to be free from our resentment and put ourselves at the service of others. It is an exercise in spiritual and emotional distance that requires gentleness, patience, and excludes impulsiveness. “

Nevertheless, Brother Thomas Georgeon warns. Correction, if it must be based on charity, does not, however, be reduced to a right-thinking tolerance, which “Does not lead to an authentic relationship either”. It is made for “Get out of self-reference, which will lead a person to manage his life according to subjective criteria and become his own master”, he sums up. It empowers.


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